ONTARIO — Elk numbers and the problems they cause were among the main topics at the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting Friday during which commission members voted on amended rules on disposition of elk taken with a kill permit.
The commission was in Ontario at Four Rivers Cultural Center for its October meeting, following its tour of the region around Owyhee Reservoir. Commission members got to see sage grouse habitat, the proposed Grassy Mountain gold mine site and have a discussion about wildlife resources around Owyhee Reservoir.
Friday’s session began with elk numbers and habitat research in northeast Oregon, and the influences of nutrition. The research, led by Darren Clark, Wildlife Research Project leaders, looked at long-term behavioral shifts in elk populations crop and property damage and lack of hunting or view on public lands.
Key issues of elk habitat are nutrition, landscape, roads and human disturbance, Clark said, commenting that elk nutrition influences body condition, pregnancy rates and survival rates.
“Elk spend most of their time where nutrition in highest,” Clark said, adding that habitat in the northern part of the Blue Mountains has the highest nutritional value for elk and the southern Blue Mountains has the least.
A heavy forest canopy prevents good growth of forage plans down on the forest floor, he said.
Opening up the canopy allows the nutritional vegetation to recoup, he said, and this can be done with thinning or burning.
The research showed by positive benefits lasts for 15 years, with the peak benefits occurring by five years.
“Build elk habitat and they will use it,” Clark said.
Invited to speak to the commission, state Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, said growing up in the Drewsey area, the sighting of elk was a rare occasion, and now there are hundreds of elk, if not thousands, in the area, and the cost is significant, he said.
“It is huge,” to those people who have this high volume on their places.
One of the ways that addresses elk damage, which wildlife officials said is rare and is used as a last resort, is allowing elk to be taken on an emergency hunt or kill permit.
The amended rules approved Friday by the commission gives the landowners or designees the opportunity for landowners or their designees to keep elk taken on the kill permit during specific times, but still prioritizing delivery to charitable organizations such as food banks or pantries.
Supporters of the amendment, including, state Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove, and county commissioners from Wallowa and Union counties, say that the rules take off some of the burden of dealing with elk carcasses off of landowners.
Kevin Blakely, deputy administrator, wildlife division, said that issuance of kill permits are rare, with less than 50 kills occurring per year.
The program is not designed to kill all problem elk, but killing one or two can discourage other elk from going onto private land.